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Saving on Your Hotel Room

The rack rate is the maximum rate that a hotel charges for a room. Shanghai frequently hosts international conventions and large special events such as the Formula One Grand Prix, so the top hotels will charge rack rates during these occasions. During all other times, however, almost no one pays more than 90% of this rate. On average, you can usually expect a discount of 20% to 40%, and occasionally even up to 60% to 70% during the low season. To lower the cost of your room:

  • Do not book ahead. As a general rule, you can get the best rates in China by simply showing up at a hotel and bargaining, assuming, of course, that there is room. For much of the year, most Chinese hotels are never full and your chances of getting a lower rate are much better on the spot than if you booked months in advance (perhaps paying double what you might in person). In addition, there is no guarantee that the booking you make will be honored, especially at local Chinese hotels. That said, most travelers to China (especially first-timers) who are not familiar with the language tend to find the prospect of negotiating on the spot daunting, not to mention highly inconvenient if you have to drag your luggage around until you find a suitable hotel. Those who want to get the best deal but also be assured of a place to stay can book a hotel for the first night, and then bargain in person once you've reached your destination. To bargain in person, it's helpful to keep in mind the general discounting structure mentioned above, as well as the discounted rates offered by various websites .
  • Book online. If you have to or would like to stay at a specific joint-venture hotel during a particularly busy time, the best rates are usually offered on the hotel's website. Some of them also offer Internet-only discounts. Beware that these rates fluctuate constantly according to inventory. Unless there's a major event going on, the further in advance you book, the smaller the discount you'll likely receive. Hotel prices quoted by services like Travelocity and Expedia can occasionally be quite competitive, especially closer to the time, but such rates can usually be matched by the hotels themselves. Several top international hotels such as the Marriott chain also have a "look no further" policy whereby they will match the lowest rates offered on any non-hotel-affiliated websites.
  • Dial a central booking number. With the better hotels, you can sometimes get better rates with their toll-free central booking numbers than by calling the hotels directly.
  • Do not book through Chinese hotel agencies or websites specializing in Chinese hotels. As a general rule, do not book with any online Chinese travel agencies and hotel-booking sites, as not all of them are licensed and you have no guarantee of getting a room or your money back. Whatever prices these sites quote you, you can usually obtain the same discount if you contact the hotels directly and may even beat that discount as you won't have to pay the agency's markup (usually 10%). That said, there's no harm in consulting hugely popular Chinese travel websites such as Ctrip (www.english.ctrip.com) and eLong (www.elong.com) if only to get a sense of your beginning price for negotiation.

Look Before You Buy -- When bargaining for a room at a hotel, always ask to see the room first to avoid any rude surprises after you've put your money down. This is standard practice at all Chinese hotels, and any receptionist who tells you otherwise is merely being lazy. Most of the top hotels will be more reluctant to show their rooms, but politely insist if it's important enough to you.

How to Choose the Right Location for You

No district has a complete lock on convenience for the traveler, because the main tourist sites are scattered around the sprawling city, and shuttling by taxi and Metro is cheap and efficient. In general, hotels in Huangpu, Luwan, and Jing An districts have the most to see in their immediate neighborhoods.

For the average visitor on a short stay, the downtown district of Huangpu, which encompasses the city center, the Bund, and the eastern half of Nanjing Lu, and which has a number of top hotels like the Westin, JW Marriott, and a slew of hotels along or just off the Nanjing Lu Pedestrian Mall, offers the convenience of being able to walk to central sites such as the Bund, People's Square, Shanghai Museum, and Shanghai Grand Theatre. New, tony hotels along the Bund (the Peninsula, the recently reopened Peace Hotel, and the Waldorf Astoria), the South Bund, and the old Chinese city also make this district a top choice, though the downtown area tends to shut down by 10pm.

Those looking for a more exciting nightlife would do well to be based in the Luwan District just southwest of the Bund, or the northeastern part of the Xuhui District just to the west of Luwan. This former French Concession area is one of the most pleasant areas to stay, whether as a tourist or resident. There is a good sprinkling of international-caliber hotels here, but even more attractive are the wide, tree-lined streets, hundreds of colonial mansions and Art Deco apartments hidden inside narrow lanes ripe for exploring, excellent restaurants in colonial settings, and colorful nightlife around Xintiandi, Taikang Lu, and Hengshan Lu. Some of the best shopping in town is also found here along Huaihai Lu and Maoming Lu.

North of Luwan and west of Huangpu District, Jing An District (Northwest Shanghai) has its share of colonial mansions (more of the British than of the French variety), some fine restaurants, and many top hotels including the Four Seasons, the Portman Ritz-Carlton, and the Hilton.

To the west, the sprawling western district of Changning and the Hongqiao Development Zone is primarily a foreign investment and residential area, most easily accessible by taxi, as there is no subway service out here yet. A handful of top international hotels based here, such as the Regent, Sheraton, and Marriott, cater mostly to business travelers, but there are some excellent restaurants in the district worth checking out.

To the east of city center, just across the Huangpu River, the Pudong New Area has less to offer sightseers, as it's still primarily a business district. With several of Shanghai's best hotels, and subway links to downtown (Metro Lines 2 and 4), however, it can now serve as a base for tourists as well.

The Very Expensive category lists hotels with rack rates over ¥2,380 per night; the Expensive category lists hotels with rack rates of ¥1,360 to ¥2,380 per night; the Moderate category, rack rates of ¥680 to ¥1,360 per night; and the Inexpensive category, rack rates of under ¥680. Each listing also includes the average discount you can expect at that establishment.


Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.